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  • Gryphon Myers
    Gryphon Myers

    CBS Forces Celiac 'Blue Bloods' Actress to Take Leave of Absence

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 10/30/2012 - Many celiac sufferers have stories of discrimination and/or ignorance from coworkers, peers and employers but none have been quite as high profile as the current dispute between actress Jennifer Esposito and CBS. Esposito, a sufferer of celiac disease, plays one of the main characters in the CBS drama 'Blue Bloods'. After Esposito requested a reduced schedule to manage her condition, CBS took steps that have Esposito, her fans, and celiac sufferers everywhere rallying to her cause.

    jennifer_esposito.jpgThe apparent point of contention between CBS and Esposito is the idea that celiac disease warrants special treatment (or perhaps that Esposito even has it). After the actress collapsed on set two months ago, her doctor recommended a significantly reduced work schedule. CBS was unwilling to comply, and evidently skeptical that there was ever anything wrong with the actress. According to Esposito, “CBS implied that I was not truly ill and this was a scheme to get a raise!”

    In a statement released over the weekend, CBS seems to suggest that it has more to do with the demands of the role than the disease: “Jennifer has informed us that she is only available to work a very limited part-time schedule. As a result, she's unable to perform the demands of her role and we regretfully had to put her character on a leave of absence.”

    Esposito claims that they have done much more than put her character on leave of absence: “CBS put me on unpaid leave and has blocked me from working anywhere else after my doctor said you needed a reduced schedule due to Celiac.” According to Esposito, it has been two months since the incident and Esposito still hasn't been invited back to the show. She also claims that CBS rejected her recent attempts to reopen negotiations.

    It seems unlikely that there was no possibility of compromise here, and CBS's actions come across as both excessive and insensitive. It is not uncommon for sufferers of celiac disease to face accusations of hypochondria, so Esposito's struggle with CBS could be seen as having symbolic significance. She speaks for many when she says “truly a very sad day when you can be bullied at my age with a disease”.

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    CBS has mistreated stars who developed serious illnesses before. They treated Michael Zaslow horribly when he was diagnosed with Lou Gerhig's disease. Michael played the role of Roger Thorpe on Guilding Light. CBS honchos said terrible things about him after they got rid of him. Fans were outraged at the awful treatment of Michael when he had a terminal illness. I have celiac disease, and I certainly know that it is very serious. CBS should be totally ashamed of the way they have treated Jennifer, but I'm sure they couldn't care less. I don't watch Blue Bloods anymore. I don't like it.

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    This is happening to me in my job, too. I hope this sets a precedent that can help me in my struggle. People say the worst things to me, and HR isn't doing anything about it. Everyone gets free meals, and I eat alone everyday.

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    We need more of this type of poor treatment by "employers" to be made public more often. I work for the AARP Foundation, who is funded in part by the US Department of Labor. I have celiac disease and neuropathy problems. I requested some reduced hours so I could go for physical therapy. As soon as I asked my employer they immediately suspended me for 60 days without pay "BEFORE" I even started my physical therapy. I can't go back to work, period, unless the doctor gives me a letter stating I am able to go back to work. The physical therapy is for my legs and feet. My AARP job is to sit at a computer all day and input information. What does one have to do with the other?

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    This is happening to me in my job, too. I hope this sets a precedent that can help me in my struggle. People say the worst things to me, and HR isn't doing anything about it. Everyone gets free meals, and I eat alone everyday.

    I know how you feel. I have been discriminated against in one way or another since I was a child. (I had celiac disease then, but did not know it.) I even now get told it is in my head, or it is this and that. My son has it, and he is in full denial about it. I no longer talk to them about it any more. Most don't want to give up their comfort foods.

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    I am going to be Devil's Advocate here. If she is that ill as not to be able to fulfill the shooting requirements, then she should step down. We see people with celiac disease in almost all, if not all positions today: entertainment, athletes, routine jobs. They are performing and controlling their disease while doing it. Even though I am now retired, I did not miss work or ask for a reduced schedule due to the disease - you manage it along with your physician.

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    Blue Bloods has been my favorite show since its debut. CBS is also the network I watch the most, other than PBS. I hope this is resolved in a fair way, or I will be forced to give up both the show and the network. I have never done this before, but I feel very strongly about this.

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    This surely falls under the Americans With Disabilities Act. This is blatant discrimination against an obvious disability. Hopefully, her attorney is filing court papers on her behalf. Jen wants to work just like the rest of us celiac disease'ers, and they should give her her job back. I have been boycotting this show since Jen went public with her fight. If necessary, I will also boycott any companies that have ads on this show as well. This is just disgusting!

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    I am going to be Devil's Advocate here. If she is that ill as not to be able to fulfill the shooting requirements, then she should step down. We see people with celiac disease in almost all, if not all positions today: entertainment, athletes, routine jobs. They are performing and controlling their disease while doing it. Even though I am now retired, I did not miss work or ask for a reduced schedule due to the disease - you manage it along with your physician.

    I agree with you. I don't understand why she is blaming celiac disease on her inability to do her job. I have celiac disease and maintain a gluten-free diet... I'm healthy as a horse and haven't missed a beat.

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    I really feel for her. As someone who has had a lot of health related issues with celiac, there are many jobs that I would not consider doing because I don't have the energy. While I think CBS could have done more to work with Jennifer - the acting field is not known for its low stress environment. If she can't keep up with the work load, then it is not worth jeopardizing her health.

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    I agree with you. I don't understand why she is blaming celiac disease on her inability to do her job. I have celiac disease and maintain a gluten-free diet... I'm healthy as a horse and haven't missed a beat.

    I beg to differ with you and "dappy". If you have gone through a long period without getting a correct diagnosis, you can be quite ill and it can take some time to get used to the gluten-free diet and regain some health and strength. Any company should work with the employee with a reduced schedule if suggested by a physician while the employee regains strength and can return to a regular schedule. This is what sick leave/leaves of absence/PTO is for. I think it is reasonable for CBS to suggest a leave of absence if needed to regain her strength. However, they should honor this, and allow her to return if she is improved and can do her job. Television shows can have smaller parts for a character for a specified time period, and the character of Jackie could appear on a limited basis until Jennifer improves. After being on a gluten-free diet for a few months, I (who had lost about 15 pounds over a month period when things became critical in 1975 - going from 90 to 75 pounds) noticed a huge difference as soon as I went on a gluten-free diet. I was much improved after only a few months, but I really needed those months to gradually get back to full energy level, even though I kept working full time as a school librarian. The teachers, administration, and kids understood, as it seems CBS does not, even though in 1975, hardly anyone had ever heard of celiac disease!

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    I am going to be Devil's Advocate here. If she is that ill as not to be able to fulfill the shooting requirements, then she should step down. We see people with celiac disease in almost all, if not all positions today: entertainment, athletes, routine jobs. They are performing and controlling their disease while doing it. Even though I am now retired, I did not miss work or ask for a reduced schedule due to the disease - you manage it along with your physician.

    Obviously this individual didn't have as serious of a condition as Jennifer. I have the disease (diagnosed 3 years ago) after being misdiagnosed for over 30 years. Good for you that you were able to live your life without serious ramifications. You certainly don't understand the disease fully, and the effect that an autoimmune disease has on one's life. For supposedly having celiac disease, you sure are judgmental and non-supportive of others who struggle with it!

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  • About Me

    Gryphon Myers recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in interdisciplinary studies, research emphasis in art, society and technology. He is a lifelong vegetarian, an organic, local and GMO-free food enthusiast and a high fructose corn syrup abstainer. He currently lives in Northern California. He also writes about and designs video games at Homunkulus.

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